countries that have eliminated trachomaNeglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1.4 billion people in 149 countries. These diseases flourish in areas of the world where there is a lack of basic sanitation, which means that the global poor have the highest risk of contracting them. These diseases are preventable and treatable, but due to a lack of resources and aid, millions of people still suffer from these diseases that can cause them to be disfigured, disabled and may even result in death.

However, with the help of several different organizations and national campaigns, many countries have successfully eliminated some NTDs, including trachoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection that affects the eyes and eyelids, causing the eyelashes to turn inward toward the eye leaving patients blind.

Here are three countries that have eliminated trachoma.

3 Countries That Have Eliminated Trachoma

  • Ghana – In 2018, Ghana became the first country in West Africa to eliminate blinding trachoma. Three groups were instrumental in this effort: FHI 360 – a nonprofit human development organization; END in Africa Project (financed by USAID) and Ghana Health Service’s NTD program. Working together, the three organizations eliminated blinding trachoma over an eight-year period. From 2010 to 2018, the END in Africa Project supported the global distribution of more than 464 million NTD Program treatments for trachoma and other diseases. They also mapped disease distribution, treated at-risk populations and monitored treatment impact while also documenting successes along the road to eliminating this terrible disease. FHI 360 provided technical and financial assistance for trachoma post-treatment surveillance, which will help with further prevention of the disease. The program’s long surveillance and treatment of patients is a testament to its dedication and commitment to ending NTDs.
  • Laos – In 2017, Laos became the fifth endemic country in the world to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem. Blinding trachoma was especially common among young children. The United States government had been supporting Laos since 2012 through several USAID projects, such as END in Asia and ENVISION. These projects assisted the Ministry of Health in collecting reliable data on the status of trachoma, which helped determine the correct approach to eradicate the disease. Laos was able to place ophthalmologists at national, provincial and district levels to detect and operate on cases of patients with the disease. The projects also trained primary health care workers to screen patients for trachoma, and they gave patients with less severe conditions the antibiotic eye treatments they needed. Nongovernmental organizations also helped train health volunteers in villages on ways to prevent trachoma. Education ministries invited volunteers to come to their schools and educate their students on facial cleanliness and showed how the infection spread from person to person. Laos achieved amazing success with its partners, working to not only diagnose and treat the disease but also to educate people on how to prevent trachoma.
  • Mexico – Mexico became the first country in the Americas and the third country in the world to officially eliminate trachoma in April 2017. In 2004, the Secretary of Health of the state of Chiapas formed a group of health professionals called Trachoma Brigades to implement SAFE, the strategy recommended by the World Health Organization to eliminate the disease. In their fight against this disease, Mexico provided surgery for people at imminent risk of blindness, administered antibiotics in affected communities to reduce infection in children as well as to stop transmission, promoted personal hygiene and improved environmental conditions. The SAFE strategy’s 4 interventions have been especially successful in the state of Chiapas. Trachoma was endemic in 246 communities in the state and affected over 146,000 citizens. Trachoma Brigades, alongside national, state and community efforts and international partners, eradicated this disease. Trachoma Brigades visited communities several times a year to conduct surveys, eye examinations, identify cases, administer antibiotics, educate children about proper hygiene and perform surgeries.

These three countries worked for years to eradicate this trachoma and improve their citizens’ quality of life. The combined efforts of multiple organizations and governments brought medication, surgeries and public education to these countries toward achieving this goal. In addition to Ghana, Laos and Mexico, countries such as Cambodia, Togo, The Marshall Islands, Oman and Morocco have also made progress against this disease.

It is a U.S. foreign policy objective to support the treatment, control and elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The World Health Organization recognizes 17 NTDs which currently afflict 1.4 billion people around the globe. Urge Congress to support the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act to advance U.S. foreign policy interests and safeguard national security.

Email Congress to End NTDs

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: WHO

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Laos
Laos is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world and the poorest in its region. Poverty and low levels of education leave its residents vulnerable to diverse sorts of crime and one of the largest crimes the country faces is human trafficking. Here are 10 facts about human trafficking in Laos.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Laos

  1. Human Trafficking Numbers: Between 200,000 and 450,000 people in Laos fall victim to human trafficking each year. Labor migration within Laos’s geographical region has a link to trafficking as many natives leave in search of better employment opportunities.
  2. The Vulnerability of Girls: Girls aged 12 to 18 make up about 90 percent of trafficking victims each year. These young Lao women must drop out of school to make a living to sustain their families. The girls then willingly seek employment opportunities abroad.
  3. Migration to Thailand: The majority of human trafficking from Laos occurs when its people choose to move to Thailand. One of the reasons that Thailand is a destination is that it is close and shares a similar culture and language. Moreover, people in Laos tend to move to Thailand due to its higher economic standing. Since education levels in Laos are particularly low, its people often seek better lives and are naïve and vulnerable to criminals who trick and cheat them.
  4. Sex Trafficking and Forced Labor: The commercial sex trade and forced labor situations are the two most common types of human trafficking that Laotians face. Since young females are the main people migrating from Laos, traffickers often take them to countries like China to sell them as brides. Others receive false promises of high paying jobs but end up trapped in slave work.
  5. A Tier 3 Rank: These conditions have manifested due to the Laos government’s failure to meet the minimum standards to end human trafficking. In 2018, the U.S. downgraded Laos to a Tier 3 in terms of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). Tier 3 is the worst rating a country can have.
  6. UN-ACT and Ending Human Trafficking in Laos: Human trafficking remains one of Laos’s most significant struggles, but positive headway has been developing over the years. Laos’s government has started to tighten its border security. The police force is now receiving training from organizations like the United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT). UN-ACT has implemented the three P’s protocol including prevention, protection and prosecution, to deter human trafficking in Laos.
  7. Raising Awareness: Not only is awareness spreading through law enforcement, but it is reaching civilians too. Officials have launched campaigns to spread information about human trafficking at border crossings. This initiative educates individuals on what to look out for and how to avoid potentially dangerous situations while traveling.
  8. The Lotus Project: While the government has started to do its part, other private organizations have lent Laos efforts too. The Lotus Project, founded in 2008, has a mission to support and provide young Loa women with education. Since the Lotus Project’s start, it has been able to impact 80 families and keep those girls from falling victim to human trafficking.
  9. Lao Women’s Union: Lao Women’s Union is the country’s largest support association. Not only does it focus on trafficking victims, but also on domestic violence victims. To serve the women of Laos, the LWU is an active advocator for women’s rights and their ability to prosecute traffickers.
  10. Village Focus International (VFI): In Laos, there are three shelters for trafficking survivors and two of them are a result of Village Focus International. At the shelters that VFI established, girls receive safe accommodations, food, health care and emotional support to repower themselves. VFI has been able to aid over 500 lives over the years and is helping make Laos a safer country for its residents.

The people of Laos, and especially the young women who live there, face great dangers when seeking employment opportunities abroad. As expressed in these 10 facts about human trafficking in Laos, however, the country is making positive strides. Thanks to recent government efforts and groups like LWU, The Lotus Project and VFI, more Laotians are able to avoid those hardships or receive rescue.

– Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr

 

BubzBeauty Helps Build Schools
Pencils of Promise is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 2008. Since then, it has built 512 schools in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos, and has helped 102,215 children obtain a quality education in those countries. Not only does the organization raise money for schools, but it also has programs to help support teachers working at and students attending these schools. Through Pencils of Promise, YouTuber BubzBeauty helps build schools in its three countries of interest.

BubzBeauty’s Involvement with Pencils of Promise

On August 8, 2015, Lindy “Bubz” Tsang announced her first campaign with Pencils of Promise to raise $50,000 to build two schools in Laos. She felt compelled to use her YouTube platform and large following to help children in poverty obtain an education and better their lives. For this first fundraiser, Bubz designed a sweatshirt for her subscribers to purchase; 100 percent of all proceeds went toward the school fund.

It was a huge success, and on January 18, 2016, Bubz released a vlog of her visit to one of the two schools, named Beauty of Knowledge. The name was a tribute to her beauty channel on YouTube, since it and its subscribers were what made the building of the school possible. As Bubz says in her vlog, “beauty doesn’t have to be just about makeup and skincare. Beauty is also knowledge.”

Building Schools in Laos and Ghana

Before the building of the new schools, the kids in Tad Thong, Laos went to school in a temporary classroom structure made from bamboo with a makeshift roof. There was no way for it to support all the children coming to attend, so the school held six grades in only three classrooms. In Saen Oudom, Laos, children also attended school in extremely poor conditions, with the building having a leaky roof and many safety hazards. Thanks to Bubz, both towns have a safe space for the kids’ education to continue and thrive. Tad Thong now has a five-classroom school and Saen Oudom a three-classroom school.

Since then, Bubz has raised money to build a total of five schools, ultimately impacting a total of 3,469 children around the world. Bubz and her beauty community have helped construct two schools in Laos and three in Ghana. The Ghana fundraiser gained monetary aid from another shirt design with all profits going toward the campaign. Additionally, Bubz created an eye shadow palette where $2 from each one sold went toward the fund. Here is a list of the three areas Bubz has helped:

  • Atravenu, Ghana: Four grades were sharing two classrooms in a chapel. This proved to be a distracting environment for both teachers and students, hindering the education process.

  • Kpando Torkor, Ghana: The school building had unfinished classrooms. The first and second graders were in the most unsafe rooms and the 91 students attending caused overcrowding, a safety hazard.

  • Mafi Agorve, Ghana: Children were attending school in makeshift structures that did not include windows or doors. This exposed them to harsh sunlight throughout the day and outdoor distractions.

With Bubz’s help, all three towns were able to build a three-unit class structure, and Kpando Torkor was also able to renovate its already existing classrooms.

Plans for the Future

In the description of her most recent update video on the schools (May 10, 2019), Bubz wrote, “When we build schools, we’re not just building a physical structure, we also build up a child’s confidence, dreams and goals. We build up communities’ potential and standard of life.” Bubz’s campaigns through BubzBeauty not only helps build schools but also helps the communities surrounding those schools flourish more than they would have without her help. Education leads to a better life for these children and brighter futures for the countries.

Even present day, BubzBeauty helps build schools with Pencils of Promise. In May 2019, she announced that profits from her formulated lipstick would go toward a fund to raise money to build a school in Guatemala.

“Not all superheroes wear capes. Some wear lipstick.” — Lindy Tsang

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Scavenger Hunt for a Cause
The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt, or GISH, is a scavenger hunt for a cause and one that can boast that it actually is the greatest international scavenger hunt — it has received a Guinness World Record for the largest media scavenger hunt in the world. “Supernatural” actor Misha Collins founded GISH in 2011, and it is a scavenger hunt for a cause that has seen over 55,000 participants from over 69 countries since its inaugural year. GISH effectively mobilizes its thousands of participants toward charitable causes, often by making charitable donations a task in the annual hunt. On such a large scale, GISH has made an impact on causes including refugee settlement and farmland donations in Africa.

What is GISH?

Formally known as GISHWHES, GISH is a scavenger hunt for a cause and a viral online media event that takes place over one week every year. Participants must pay a $25 sign-up fee and teams must consist of 15 people, either personally chosen or randomly assigned. The organization sends out the scavenger hunt list via email as well as the GISH app, and the goal is to complete as many tasks as possible by the end of the week.

Some previous tasks from 2019 included hosting Stormtrooper X Games and providing photos, finding an actual spacesuit and putting a GISH patch next to the national flag. Additionally, some tasks were to create a brochure for a Mars tourist company, plant and maintain trees and help residents of a local nursing home “escape” by throwing a summer party and asking about their favorite memories.

How Does GISH Help?

Through various GISH tasks over the last few years, participants have cleaned thousands of beaches, more than 2,000 participants have donated blood, more than 800 have registered as bone marrow donors, more than 3,000 have volunteered for food pantries and volunteers have donated more than $700,000 to charity. In 2011, GISH raised money to build an orphanage and care center for the orphans of the Haiti earthquake of 2010. In 2016, participants raised enough funds for four refugee families from Syria to move out of a refugee camp and into a stable housing environment. In 2018, GISH participants helped to provide over 250 acres of farmland and resources to women in Rwanda to rebuild their lives and provide them with the opportunity of financial freedom. In 2019, scavenger hunt teams raised funds to help refugees at the U.S./Mexico border and raised more than $240,000 to help families in Laos. These are just a few of the impacts that GISH has had in the last eight years.

Random Acts: A Partner Charity

Random Acts, a charity also founded by Misha Collins, is an organization dedicated to finding new ways to bring random acts of kindness into the world. Similar to GISH, it has an annual event called AMOK (annual melee of kindness), where participants perform various acts of kindness to make their community a better place, including fundraising and mobilizing.

It also hosts Endurance 4 Kindness, which is a global event that allows participants to push themselves and raise money for a good cause. Random Acts has helped fund campaigns like Hope to Haiti and Dreams 2 Acts: Nicaragua as well. GISH has partnered with Random Acts in the past to save a South African dance school in 2017 and to help build an orphanage in Haiti in 2011.

How to Participate

To participate in GISH, find a team (or opt for random placement), sign up through their website, pay the $25 participation fee and wait to receive the list! Prepare to be uncomfortable and awkward, but be ready for a good time. Overall, keep in mind that although seemingly lighthearted and just for fun, many of the tasks aim to make a real difference, both in local communities and globally.

GISH is a scavenger hunt for a cause and has been going strong for the past eight years, constantly breaking Guinness Records and gaining more participants as it grows. It emerged as a call to action in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2011 and has since helped people all over the world. From refugees in Syria and Lebanon in 2016 to women in Rwanda in 2017 to families in Laos this year, GISH has made impacts all over the world. GISH is the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt for a great international cause and each year continues to see more participants helping to change the world. Over the next few years, participants will help thousands of people and donate thousands of dollars for various charities, expanding an already record-setting scavenger hunt for a cause.

Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Laos

Laos is a developing country landlocked between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The nation struggles with high poverty levels, vulnerability to climate change and gender inequality among other issues. However, due to the progress of many NGOs and a slow improvement in political freedom, Laos has begun to enhance the quality of life of its citizens. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Laos

  1. Education
    Education levels in Laos have improved from 91.6 percent enrollment in 2009 to 97 percent enrollment in 2011. However, access to education remains limited, especially for children living in rural areas and especially for girls. Although there is a 20 percent excess of teachers in the country overall, they are concentrated almost exclusively in urban and suburban areas. Unfortunately, only 45 percent of rural villages in Laos have education through the third grade and 20 percent of rural villages have no access to schools whatsoever. Save the Children has been successful in providing access to primary schools for over 3,000 children in 2012.
  2. Poverty Levels
    Poverty levels are dire in Laos. In 2012, 23.2 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. In addition, 22.7 percent of the Laotian people were surviving on only $1.90 per day. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that there are very limited employment opportunities in Laos. The country’s economy is dominated by agriculture with 75 percent of the workforce working in this sector which offers little opportunity for economic mobility.
  3. Human Trafficking
    Between 200,000 to 450,000 people are trafficked each year in the Greater Mekong Subregion, with many of those people coming from Laos. In addition, 90 percent of Laotian trafficking victims are girls ages 12 to 18. However, the government is not doing enough to curb this issue according to a report from the U.S. State Department in 2018 which notes, “The Government of Laos does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts.” Fortunately, there are several NGOs such as the Lotus Education Fund working to provide young girls with access to education, school supplies, uniforms and books so that they have the opportunity to remain in school and avoid exploitation.
  4. Child Marriage
    Traditional customs and a lack of access to education for girls leads to high child marriage rates in Laos. According to the NGO Girls Not Brides, 9 percent of Laotian girls are married before the age of 15 and 35 percent are married before the age of 18. Understanding the effects of this issue and the other top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos is integral to fighting gender disparity in the region.
  5. Climate Change
    The impact of climate change has hit Laotian farmers hard. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. reported that “serious issues regarding deforestation, forest degradation, aquatic resource degradation and loss of biodiversity have been observed.” This has detrimental effects on the livelihood of farmers. Laos’s Deputy Director of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute said, “Temperatures are definitely rising,” and “rice is the staple crop, and climate change risks the food security of thousands of villages. Every 1C increase in temperature can result in a 10 percent decrease in rice yield.”
  6. Disease Levels and Prevention
    Despite the presence of threatening diseases such as Avian influenza, artemisinin-resistant malaria and HIV/AIDS, there are several projects in place currently to improve public health standards across the country. The U.S. is partnering with the Lao government “on a wide range of health-related programs to promote nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene, maternal and child health, support for people living with disabilities, and school feeding; programs which bring direct benefits to families across Laos.”
  7. Life Expectancy
    The average life expectancy worldwide in 2016 was 72 years. However, Laos fell short of this global standard with an average life expectancy of 66.7 years. This disparity is largely due to poverty levels and hopefully understanding these top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos can help turn these statistics around.
  8. Political Structure
    Political freedoms are unfortunately very limited in Laos. Although the constitution awards every citizen the right to vote, the political system is stuck in one-party rule under the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, which severely limits the ability of any citizen to run against the party or criticize the government. In fact, in May 2017, three Laotian citizens were sentenced to prison for criticizing the government on social media. The Freedom House gave the country a Press Freedom Status of “Not Free,” and a one out of 40 Political Rights rating. However, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith did make moderate progress in fighting corruption in 2017, which represents a step forward for the political progress in Laos.
  9. Wealth Disparity
    Income inequality in Laos remains a pressing issue although general poverty levels are decreasing. The Laotian Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, increased from 0.311 to 0.364 from 1993 to 2013. This inequality rose amongst all ethnic groups in Laos and across both rural and urban regions. However, despite the rise in overall inequality, “access to publicly provided services (primary education, lower secondary education, access to health care and household access to the electricity network) has become more equal.” In addition, the absolute poverty rate in Laos has been cut in half from 46 percent of the population living in absolute poverty to only 23 percent.
  10. Access to Electricity
    According to the World Bank, “access to energy is at the heart of development.” Having access to electricity is a modern luxury that many people in developing countries take for granted every day. In Laos, it is not a given for most citizens. In 1990, only 15.3 percent of the population had access to electricity. However, the World Bank funded more than 70 projects in more than 35 countries worth an estimated $5 billion. Laos has benefitted from this initiative as access to electricity rose to 87.1 percent of the population by 2016.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos explain the greatest issues facing the Laotian people and government as well as the most successful progress. The reforms made by NGOs and the Laotian government and people themselves have made enormous strides in improving the everyday lives of the Laotian people.

– Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Laos

The both ethnically and linguistically diverse country of Laos is a landlocked, independent republic in Southeast Asia. It is home to about 7 million people, representing just 0.9 percent of the world’s total population. The average life expectancy in Laos is currently 65.8, but the number has gone up in recent years. The information below will provide 10 facts about life expectancy in Laos and what action is being taken to improve it.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Laos

  1. Currently, the life expectancy of the total population in Laos is 65 years. Men in Laos have a lower life expectancy than the average rate at 62.9 years, and women’s life expectancy is approximately 67 years.
  2. The maternal death rate in Laos is one of the highest in the Western Pacific Region. According to the Laos Maternal Death Review, 54 percent of maternal deaths were caused by complications from postpartum hemorrhage. In 1990, 905 women per 100,000 live births had died. Given this statistic, the primary focus of the ministry and WHO has been developing a voucher program that ensures free delivery of pre and postnatal care for women.
  3. In conjunction with WHO, the ministry is providing free health services to women and children in 83 districts in 13 provinces. As of 2015, the mortality rate has dropped to 197 deaths for every 100,000 live births. This drop can also be largely attributed to the work being done by the UNFPA, which is providing counseling on family planning and training midwives to match international standards.
  4. Assisted childbirth was almost unheard of in 2007, and death during childbirth was considered common if not likely. Since 1995, the Ministry of Health has begun to recognize the importance of having trained and skilled professionals present during birth and is working to decrease the number of home births in the country. As of 2015, the maternal mortality rate had decreased 75 percent. Only eight other countries had been able to accomplish that goal.
  5. As of 2017, heart disease and stroke accounted for 22 percent of deaths in Laos. Since 2007, the number of deaths from stroke has risen 5.6 percent, and deaths from heart disease have risen 3.3 percent. Most cardiovascular and respiratory problems stem from smoking and high rates of air pollution.
  6. In March of 2019, the Pollution Control Department reported that there had been a large number of wildfires in Laos and neighboring countries. Forest fires in Thailand had caused air pollution levels to become hazardous. Currently, air pollution levels are more than 20 times the safety limit. Residents have been advised to wear safety masks to prevent smoke inhalation, and officials are working to bring down toxicity levels by spraying water into the polluted air.
  7. Malnutrition has also been a persistent problem in Laos and can lead to cognitive difficulties, delayed development and high mortality rate. In 2015, 17 percent of the population was considered malnourished. Additionally, 45 percent of deaths of children under five are linked to undernutrition. Food security, diet diversity and water and sanitation all contribute extensively to the malnutrition issues. Fortunately, UNICEF has been able to advocate for nutritional programs and interventions with the hope of lowering the mortality rate.
  8. In September of 2018, Ministries of Planning and Investment, Agriculture, Public Works, Transport and Health teamed up with the World Bank to tackle the malnutrition problem in Laos. These organizations have developed a program that is focused on the critical development that occurs in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. The ministries and World Bank intend to establish welfare programs, diversify food production and improve hygiene and sanitation by ensuring clean water is accessible in rural sectors of Laos.
  9. Drinking water in Laos is often contaminated with dangerous chemicals and waste, particularly in rural areas and schools. Only 66 percent of the nearly 9,000 primary schools in Laos have functional water supply systems and latrine facilities, causing widespread health complications. UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Education and Sports to implement a program called WASH, which improves water, sanitation and hygiene in conjunction with one another. Through the program, UNICEF is implementing effective hygiene practices, providing access to safe water and ending the practice of open defecation in rural communities.
  10. Government health expenditures have gone up more than 2 percent in the last four years in an effort to provide universal health coverage by 2025. The nation continues to work towards protection from infectious disease, and while the progress has been slow, with continued government funding health coverage is likely to expand.

Many of Laos’ SDG’s are still far from being accomplished, but the 2018 country profile from the WHO suggests that improvements have been made that will eventually lead to an overall increase in life expectancy. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Laos provide insight into what steps toward improvements have already been made and what still needs to be accomplished. The hope is that Laos will continue to increase its overall life expectancy, reaching an average age of 70 by the year 2030.

Anna Lagattuta

Photo: Everystock

Top 10 Facts about Girls’ Education in Laos
Laos is one of the most poorly developed countries in the world. Decades of colonial rule, economic mismanagement and government instability have created cycles of inter-generational poverty in Laos that currently affect young people in the country. Education attainment in Laos, specifically, lags behind surrounding countries and other developing countries. Additionally, as a relatively patriarchal society, Laos struggles to provide equal opportunities to the girls and boys in the country. In the article below the top 10 facts about girls’ education in Laos are presented

Top 10 Facts about Girls’ Education in Laos

  1. The initial rate of enrollment is about equal for both genders. However, the retention and completion rate for both genders is much lower. Girls in smaller villages especially are not expected to finish primary school. In many cases, unsafe conditions for girls and male preference have contributed to a higher dropout rate for girls.
  2. Girls are less likely than boys to attend school and complete their education. Girls lag behind boys in both primary and secondary education. Cultural norms that are inclined to males, poverty, racism and discrimination against ethnic groups and a general lack of attention given to girls’ education all contribute to this disparity.
  3. Girls from minority ethnic groups have the lowest enrollment and completion rates of any other child demographic. Over 50 percent of girls from ethnic communities in Laos do not attend school. Many of these ethnic communities do not speak Lao, the official language of Laos. As a result, children in these communities are unable to receive a proper education as educational materials are only available in Lao. Additionally, girls from smaller ethnic communities have a higher poverty rate and are less likely to have the opportunity to attend school.
  4. The attendance rate for children in urban areas is around 95 percent.  That number drops to 85 percent in rural villages with roads and to 70 percent in rural areas without roads. The gender disparity in school attendance also widens in rural areas as 95 percent of both girls and boys attend primary school in urban areas, whereas only 77 percent of girls versus 83 percent of boys attend school in rural areas without roads.
  5. Child marriages result in many underage girls dropping out of school. Around one-third of Laotian girls are married before the age of 18. These girls are far more likely to become pregnant and begin child rearing at a young age. This hinders their ability to attend school, as many Laotian girls are burdened with the responsibility of caring for children and are not supported by their husbands to attend school.
  6. Organizations such as the Lotus Educational Fund are giving greater opportunities to rural Laotian girls to complete their primary and secondary education. This is done by providing girls with the materials they need to succeed in schools, such as textbooks, writing utensils, backpacks and bicycles to help them travel to school safely. Additionally, the Fund works to improve the health and wellness of the girls, by providing them with eco-friendly health kits and menstrual items. They also are working towards establishing scholarships to send more rural girls to school.
  7. Training for teachers in rural areas improves educational access and quality in Laotian villages. This is especially true when investments are made to support training for young female teachers that focus specifically on improving the education of young girls in villages. Investments in educating female teachers by the Australian government help women in Laos pursue fulfilling careers and serve to improve the learning outcomes of primary school students.
  8. Girls’ education in Laos is improving, albeit rather slowly. The percentage of girls who receive primary education has improved by less than 0.5 percent each year since 2005. To improve this slow growth, programs in Laos are working to address the wide gender gap in education by training female ethnic teachers in villages to provide higher quality education and outreach to a greater number of girls. Although the development is slow, the gender gap in primary school attendance continues to shrink, especially in urban communities, where the attendance rate is nearly equal.
  9. Educational nonprofit organizations are operating within schools in Laos to actively address gender and racial disparity in education. Organizations such as Save the Children, Room to Read and Plan International have launched educational programs in rural Laotian communities to get more children, especially girls, into schools. Save the Children has collaborated with the Ministry of Education and Sports in Laos to enact educational programs in the 10 poorest districts in Laos with a particular emphasis on ethnic minorities and girls.
  10. Pressure from the U.N., international nonprofits and foreign aid providers have encouraged the Laotian government to place more emphasis on education and gender equality. The Basic Education Quality and Access in Laos program, implemented in 2014 in partnership with the Australian government, aims to get more children completing their education in Laos. While Laos still only spends 3.3 percent of its budget on education, the education sector in Laos has shown some growth because of foreign aid assistance.

These facts show that while educational access and completion is far from equal for both genders in Laos, there are numerous programs and investments being implemented to address this imbalance. Hopefully, greater investment in girls’ education on Laos will allow the country to achieve levels of education comparable to other developing nation in the world.

– Tamar Farchy
Photo: Flickr

Ghosts of War: Healing Laos with UXO Jewelry
During the Vietnam War (1964-1973) over 250 million B-52 bombs were dropped on Laos. About 80 million of those bombs failed to detonate. The undetonated bombs remain a health hazard and safety risk today. While the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been working on clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) since 2004, the rural farmers of Laos are living with the risk of their children and themselves being injured or killed by undetonated bombs that were dropped 50 years ago. Sustainable jewelry brand Article 22 has partnered with local artisans to erase these ghosts of war by creating UXO jewelry.

The UXO danger

Seventeen percent of Laotians are rural rice farmers. Most of them live below the poverty line defined as having less than $1.92 a day. UXO’s are making it extremely difficult for families to climb out of poverty since the bombs were dropped in rural farming areas and farmers have to be extra careful when planting and harvesting their rice crops. Although some of the of UXO’s are marked, many are not, leaving Laotian farmers to live in a constant uncertainty. As bomb clearance expert John McFarland of MAG says: “If a bomb blows off someone’s arm, the family loses that income because they can no longer work.” Along with that uncertainty goes the fear that young children will wander into a UXO area and have a potentially fatal accident.

The constant fear that the UXO’s are causing to the peaceful life of Laotian people is unthinkable. Instead of focusing on simple things like going to work and getting their children educated, they have to worry about unidentified bombs going off. These ghosts of war are a constant reminder of a tragic past time in Laos. Article 22 founder Elizabeth Suda’s innovative approach to clear UXO land while improving farmer’s lives is inspiring hope.

Buying Back the Bombs

After seeing the spoons one Laotian man made from scrap metal of safely undetonated bombs, Suda knew that something more profitable was waiting to be made. Buying Back the Bombs is a campaign that pairs the work of local Laotian jewelry artists with Article 22, MAG and Swiss nonprofit organization Helvetas to sell UXO jewelry made from safely disarmed UXO. The goal is to provide extra income for Laotian rice farmers as well as UXO clearing and education for local communities. Spoon making inspired the idea, but Suda knew that making jewelry out of old bombs would be more profitable for the artisans locally and internationally. By selling bracelets, necklaces, and earrings made from old bomb scraps, these artisans make an extra income in addition to farming that is five times the local minimum wage. In addition, about three meters of land is cleared of UXO with every piece of UXO jewelry sold.

The combination of extra income and UXO clearing is changing the lives of Laotian people. Now, they have hope to work themselves out of poverty. The extra income has afforded some to send their children to school and through the UXO clearing and education, children are less likely to run into UXO. This peace of mind from having extra income and a safe neighborhood is giving people a chance to focus on other important things.

Initiative effects

In addition to getting extra cash from the sale of Article 22 jewelry, 10 percent of each sale goes to a community development fund where the artisans decide what to spend the money on. So far, they have used the money for electricity in communal areas and to finance microloans to start small businesses. Buying back the bombs has allowed poverty-ridden communities to thrive. Peacebomb jewelry is a beautiful solution to something that sadly still is a destructive force in Laotians lives. Continued projects such as this will help erase the ghosts of war.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Laos
Laos, officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, Laos also suffers from major poverty. To get a better understanding of the daily struggle in Laos, below are 10 facts about poverty in Laos.

10 Facts About Poverty in Laos

  1. According to Vision Launch Discover, 90 percent of Lao people lived off of $1 a day in the 1990s; now, this number is about $1.25. The other 10 percent live in Vientiane, the capital and largest city of Laos. Vientiane draws in the most wealth as the economic center of Laos.
  2. Laos is the most bombed country in history because of World War II. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bomb missions. Fifty people a year are killed from unexploded bombs left over from the war. These bombs scattered around the country are usually mistaken for toys and get tossed around before exploding; thus 40 percent of bomb deaths are children. Since 80 percent of people depend on their land to eat and live, people in Laos have no choice but to risk their lives working in fields covered in unexploded bombs.
  3. Forty-four percent, or 363,000, of Lao children under 5 years old are affected by stunting, a highly common condition in Laos. Stunting is usually caused by maternal undernutrition before and during pregnancy.
  4. More than 60 percent of children are malnourished and anemic. These conditions become potentially fatal due to the inadequate nutrition and lack of access to healthcare providers.
  5. Although improving, 23.2 percent or about 1.4 million Laos people are still living at or below the poverty line. Still, this is a major improvement from the 33.5 percent of the past.
  6. Agriculture is a key pillar in life in Laos, accounting for 80 percent of employment. The most important and produced crops are rice, vegetables, beans, sugarcane, starchy roots and tobacco.
  7. Education is scarce; therefore, people are forced to work in agriculture since there is little to no access to established schools and workplaces. According to United Nations Lao PDR, 70 percent of employed people work in agriculture and over a third of them don’t make enough to live sufficiently.
  8. Women receive less schooling but work longer hours than men; however, 70 percent of the illiterate population are women. According to UNESCO, more than 4,000 villages lack access to education.
  9. Two-thirds of people have a short supply of food and living essentials. During May and October of 2010, Laos faced what community leaders called the worst drought in living memory after Typhoon Ketsana in late 2009. This drought left 85,000 people affected with no seeds to harvest and no place to live. While poor climate is not unusual in Laos, this puts more burden onto the people that depend on their land to survive.
  10. For more than 20 years, the United States has donated more than $100 million to support UXO programs. This money is intended to clean up unexploded ordinances and give victims access to rehabilitation centers. Also, in February 2016, the United States and Laos signed to a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which will allow more opportunities and investments between the two nations.

Hardship and Progress

These top 10 facts about poverty in Laos illustrate the struggles and hardships that Laos people face daily. However, despite being one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and the entire world, about half a million of Laos people have been lifted out of poverty thus far.

Fortunately, the United States and Laos continue to rebuild a relationship with each other with a goal of saving lives and rebuilding a better country for the Laos people.

– Kristen Uedoi
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to LaosThe United States established full diplomatic relations with Laos in 1955 following its full independence from France in 1954. After a communist government rose to power in 1975 in Laos, U.S. representation was downgraded. Full U.S.-Laos relations were restored in 1992. The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Laos by helping the country meet its development goals and improve governance, the rule of law and the global economy.

The relationship between the two countries has broadened to include cooperation on a range of issues including health, nutrition, education, environmental protection, trade liberalization, legal reform, law enforcement and English training. One of the major U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Laos is in improving health and child nutrition. A 2011 Lao government survey revealed that 44 percent of children under five are stunted due to limited access to nutritious foods and sanitation.

The Lower Mekong Initiative

Cooperation was accelerated since 2009 with the launch of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) which serves as a platform to discuss the complex transnational development and policy changes in the lower Mekong subregion. The U.S. helps to improve trade policy in Laos, promotes sustainable development and biodiversity conservation and works to strengthen the criminal justice system and law enforcement. President Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Laos in September 2016.

U.S. exports to Laos include metals, aircraft, vehicles and agricultural products. U.S. imports from Laos include apparel, inorganic chemicals, agricultural products and precious metals.

Clear Unexploded Ordnance

The U.S. is helping Laos clear unexploded ordnance (UXO) which poses a threat to people and hampers economic development. Annual casualties over the last 20 years have lowered from more than 300 to fewer than 50. The U.S. has provided significant support for the clearance of UXO from the war and in 2016, President Obama announced $90 million in UXO funding over three years during his visit.

This funding will help make sure UXO victims have better access to quality rehabilitation services, including orthotics and prosthetics to improve their lives. Since the end of the Vietnam War, both countries have worked jointly to search for and recover the remains of U.S. soldiers who were unaccounted for. So far, the remains of 273 people have been recovered and identified.

USAID will lead new initiatives including a new five-year early grade reading program that will prepare Lao students for an increasingly competitive and integrated ASEAN community. The United States through the U.S Department of Agriculture has contributed nearly $100 million over 10 years for school meal programs in Laos that allow children to concentrate on education.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Laos by seeking to strengthen people-to-people ties with Laos by multiplying the connections between the young people of the two countries. With 70 percent of Laos population under 30 years old, the U.S is engaging the next generation of young leaders and sponsors the full range of U.S exchange programs for Lao citizens. Lao takes full advantage of these programs and has facilitated exchanges for more than 2,300 emerging Lao leaders.

Both the U.S and Laos are committed to begin discussions on establishing a Peace Corps country agreement. It remains to be seen how relations continue between the United States and Laos.

– Zachary Ott
Photo: Flickr